The Wall Street Journal article, “Obama: Trayvon Martin ‘Could Have Been Me’ ” discussing the President’s off the cuff remarks about the Martin/Zimmerman case was most discouraging. His attitude, reflecting that of a majority of blacks is that only the black experience matters.
“But he tried to explain the lens through which black Americans may see the case, saying that their own experiences and the country’s history with race inform how many view what happened to Mr. Martin.”
As a non-black my experience is also the lens though which I view life in general and this case as well. I have been called racist and sexist by a black woman (a third grade teacher no less) who did not like the job I was doing. Most blacks, male and female, appreciated the work I did. And even though a few had occasional complaints most did not raise the race or gender issue. I was never called racist or sexist by any non-black customers, employees or vendors.
In my small business I hired a number of temporary laborers, predominately black but not universally. Most were decent individuals who through luck, bad circumstance or poor life choice found themselves in difficult straits. I became friendly with some of these individuals and sought them out with work. However, there was one young black man who I did not like. He was only 21, had already fathered two children by two woman (both out of wedlock), did not support either child or woman, bragged about spending his money at strip clubs and railed about being disrespected by the agency manager. After all, this young man angrily stated, he was a man because he fathered two kids and therefore deserved respect. By “respect” of course, he meant his arrogant attitude should have been accepted, even embraced but never chastised.
At another time in my life I had long hair, a long beard, wore ragged clothes and was not regularly employed. Car doors would lock as I walked by as well. Being white didn’t matter. I looked suspicious. Years later when I owned a seat on the CME futures exchange I was advised not to apply for a job with a particular firm because I was not of the proper religious persuasion. Being white didn’t matter. Even today if a white as snow biker flying his colors walked by I too would lock my doors. The oft heard complaint about “locks click on the doors of cars” applies not just to blacks but to any suspicious looking individual. But only suspicious looking individuals. And yeah, aimlessly walking around in the rain wearing clothing that hides appearance in a neighborhood suffering a series of burglaries is darned suspicious. I too would be suspicious regardless of age, gender, or race. In point of fact as a post-military college student I did just that.
I noted a white male slowly walking down my street, stopping every few feet and looking around to see if anyone was observing. Being slightly hidden in my driveway my presence wasn’t evident. I observed this young, white male wearing jeans and shirt for several minutes because he was suspicious. The next day police knocked on my door and asked if I had seen anything suspicious because a burglary had been committed. I acknowledged what I had seen and gave them a description enhanced by my studied observation. It was never the persons age, gender, race or clothing but all of that in the context of his actions that raised my suspicion.
My experience is that too often some blacks (and women) assume that any slight, real or perceived, is due strictly to race (or gender). If I see a group of young black men walking towards me I might smile and say hello. They might be in military uniform or have the posture, poise and appearance of military men. If a different group of young black men came walking toward me I might be concerned and walk away to avoid them. This group would be wearing red or blue bandannas on their head, baggy pants dragging below their butt, over large shirts and they would be doing the “urban strut” down the street. It isn’t race that’s the problem. Either group could be white, black, brown, red or yellow or a mixture. It is clothing, gender, age, and race all within the context of actions.
For the President to chime in on race by offering support for only the black experience is for him to define his presidency that way as well. The President only intervenes in the public discourse when a non-black man kills a black man even though it was adjudicated as self defense. Meanwhile the President consistently ignores the massive amount of black on black violence and death. This is nothing short of disheartening. Maybe Attorney General Eric Holder was right when he said that in race discussions Americans are “nation of cowards”. Starting at the top evidently.